Reaction To Death of Soleimani, Trump Talks To Evangelicals, Fires In Australia The funeral for a top Iranian military commander assassinated by the U.S. begins in Baghdad. President Trump addresses a key part of his base in the wake of the killing — evangelical Christians. Plus, fires in Australia continue to devastate in the worst fire season on record there.
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Reaction To Death of Soleimani, Trump Talks To Evangelicals, Fires In Australia

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Reaction To Death of Soleimani, Trump Talks To Evangelicals, Fires In Australia

Reaction To Death of Soleimani, Trump Talks To Evangelicals, Fires In Australia

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Trump is speaking out about his orders to kill one of Iran's top military officials.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He was planning a very major attack, and we got him.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Now Iran's supreme leader is promising harsh retaliation.

SIMON: I'm Scott Simon.

FADEL: And I'm Leila Fadel. And this is UP FIRST from NPR News.

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SIMON: President Trump says he doesn't want the U.S. to go to war. Iran's ambassador to the U.N. says the response for a military action is a military action.

FADEL: What the killing of Qassem Soleimani might mean for the Middle East and for American politics.

SIMON: Plus, at least 11 people have died and millions of acres are scorched as wildfires rage in Australia.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The first season is in its infancy, and the rescue (ph) means more severe fires may occur.

FADEL: We'll have the latest from Sydney.

SIMON: Please stay with us. We'll give you the news you need to start your day.

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SIMON: Thousands of people turned out today for a funeral procession in Baghdad for one of Iran's top military commanders.

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UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Non-English language).

FADEL: Qassem Soleimani was killed Friday morning in a drone strike ordered by President Trump. It's the first stage of a public sendoff that will move to Tehran tomorrow. Iran's leaders have vowed the killing of Soleimani will not go unanswered.

SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos is following the story and joins us from Beirut.

Deb, thanks for being with us.

DEBORAH AMOS, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: The funeral begins in Baghdad, where tensions already, obviously, are high. And it's a place where the U.S. embassy came under attack by some of the very militia who are on the street for this funeral. What about security at the embassy today?

AMOS: So the embassy is protected by this elite Iraqi anti-terrorism service. And that detail comes to us from U.S. sources who aren't authorized to talk about this officially. They say that this is an upgrade. When the militia members attempted to storm the U.S. embassy last week, Iraqi security forces really didn't do much to stop them. Today, the Green Zone has reportedly been closed off. The mourners are not allowed to enter. But this is the atmosphere of the city when the Iraqi parliament is expected to meet in the next couple of days. And on the agenda is a reconsideration of the relationship with the U.S. There's going to be questions about this agreement to allow U.S. troops in Iraq. The meeting will be a signal of how high the anti-American sentiment is. And Iran will be pushing on its proxies in parliament to kick the Americans out.

SIMON: Analysts and historians reminded us this week that both presidents Bush and Obama had declined to order strikes against Soleimani because of possible repercussions. What could some of those repercussions be as you see it?

AMOS: The Iranians will not take on the U.S. in a head-to-head military confrontation. They are too weak to do this, but they are masters at asymmetrical attacks. They use proxies. They use spies. They use cyberattacks. There are oil tankers in the Gulf. There are myriad ways for the Iranians to retaliate. And they are good at doing it without leaving fingerprints. They are also pragmatic and patient. So we may not see any kind of retaliation overnight. But almost all regional analysts say it will come.

SIMON: And help us understand some of the range of reactions in the region to the death of Soleimani.

AMOS: There are, of course, reactions from his supporters. You're seeing that on the streets of Baghdad today. There are also those who are detractors who actually applauded the death of Qassem Soleimani. You see that with the protesters in Iraq. They've been on the street for months. They've been protesting against the government for corruption, failure to provide services. They forced resignation of the Iraqi prime minister. There's now a caretaker government.

This is also a protest against Iran and its overwhelming influence in the country. And lately, it was a protest against Soleimani himself as the architect of a violent policy to crush these protests. More than 500 people have been killed on the street. Then you also see this in Syria. Soleimani was instrumental in propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. And so Syrians there sort of hold him responsible for the death of tens of thousands of civilians. And there's been graffiti in the northwest of the country where the government has no control - posters of Soleimani in the dustbin of history. But in both places, these people know that they may pay the price for this, that where the retaliation will happen is perhaps against these very protesters in Baghdad and also in Syria, where it is possible to hit U.S. targets, U.S. allies in the retaliation.

SIMON: NPR's Deborah Amos in Beirut. Thanks so much.

AMOS: Thank you.

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FADEL: President Trump spoke of Soleimani's assassination before an especially friendly audience last night, an Evangelicals for Trump rally in Miami.

SIMON: Many evangelical Christians see the president as a protector and to use Soleimani's killing to drive home that message.

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TRUMP: He was plotting attacks against Americans, but now we've ensured that his atrocities have been stopped for good. They are stopped for good. I don't know if you know what was happening, but he was planning a very major attack. And we got him.

(CHEERING)

FADEL: NPR's Tom Gjelten was at the rally and joins us now. Hi, Tom.

TOM GJELTEN, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So we've heard a lot of concerns raised about what might follow now in the aftermath of that attack. Did President Trump have anything to say about those concerns?

GJELTEN: Nothing at all, actually. He didn't dwell on the attack all that much. He said the killing of Soleimani is a warning that if anyone values their own life, they'd better not threaten American lives. But that was about it. He moved on pretty quickly to focus on the things he sees evangelicals as caring about - social issues, abortion, gun rights. This was a campaign rally. It was billed as the launch of an Evangelicals for Trump coalition for the 2020 election.

FADEL: So as I understand it, this rally was announced very quickly after the evangelical magazine Christianity Today came out with an editorial calling for Trump to be removed from office because of his grossly immoral character. Did he mention that?

GJELTEN: He did not, but there is no question he was stung by that attack. Christianity Today is an important evangelical publication, and it's pretty clear Trump felt some need to show there are still a lot of evangelicals sticking by him, that Christianity Today does not speak for them. In fact, a lot of big pro-Trump evangelical leaders were at this rally, enthusiastically praising him - people like Paula White, who leads a megachurch here in Florida, and Pastor Robert Jeffress, who leads a big Baptist congregation in Dallas. Trump made no mention of those evangelicals who are critical of his moral failings. Instead, he cited what he regards as his accomplishments, like appointing conservative judges or moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. He made just this one cryptic comment about his own character.

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TRUMP: Pastor Jeffress can tell you I'm good at getting things done. I may not be perfect. But I get things done, right? Right, Robert?

GJELTEN: So there you go, Leila. He admits he's not perfect. But that's as far as he goes. But I'll tell you something, with evangelicals, that's actually a good thing to say because evangelical Christians emphasize that we're all sinners. They focus on the importance of redemption. So when Trump admits to not being perfect, that can actually resonate.

FADEL: Now, this rally was at a church that serves a lot of Latino evangelicals. Is outreach part of the reason the Trump campaign chose it?

GJELTEN: And it is true, Leila, they did choose this church. It's Rey Jesus church - the King Jesus church. The pastor here - Guillermo Maldonado - apostle Maldonado, as he likes to be called, is himself from Honduras. Many of his parishioners are Latino. In fact, I'd say at least half the people at this rally were Hispanic. And that's a change from other Trump rallies, where it's been largely a white audience. Many Hispanic evangelicals are fairly conservative on social issues. And the Trump campaign would like their support. Florida's a swing state. And Hispanic evangelicals are swing voters.

FADEL: NPR's Tom Gjelten, thank you so much.

GJELTEN: You bet.

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SIMON: The wildfire crisis in Australia continues to grow.

FADEL: Firefighters are battling hundreds of blazes across the south and east of the country. Yesterday, two more people died when a fire engulfed their vehicle on Kangaroo Island in south Australia.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Sydney and joins us now. Jason, thanks for being with us.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: It's good to be with you.

SIMON: These fires have been going on for several months. What has happened now that seems to have made the situation even worse?

BEAUBIEN: Well, what's happening at the moment is that you're getting these winds that are picking up and taking these hundreds of fires and just pulling some of them together. You know, these have been going on for months. And yet this week alone, you had people killed near where I am and people killed 1,000 miles away on Kangaroo Island in South Australia.

And things are definitely getting worse in part because the Southern Hemisphere is going into summer. Things are getting much hotter. The temperature hit 120 degrees yesterday just west of here in Penrith. Officials are calling this the worst fire record - fire season on record. And a lot of that has to do with that 2019 was the hottest and driest year ever recorded in Australia since they started keeping records in 1910.

SIMON: How does a country that is so spread out handle so many deadly wildfires at the same time?

BEAUBIEN: I think scrambling is a reasonable way to sum this up at the moment. You've had more than 100,000 people who have been ordered to evacuate along the southeast coast. You've got thousands of volunteer firefighters out there trying to do backburns and bulldoze fields to keep fire lines from advancing and jumping in to stomp out new blazes in all of these different areas where they're popping up. It's definitely been this pull-together effort.

The prime minister - he's deployed the military defense forces to evacuate people - sometimes with helicopters. Nearly a thousand people were taken by the Navy from a beach. And they were just dropped in Melbourne. But there's another 3,000 people who are still trapped on this beach.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison just announced a mandatory call-up of thousands of Defence Force reservists to help. And he says this crisis is escalating. And the federal government is going to be throwing everything it can at these blazes.

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PRIME MINISTER SCOTT MORRISON: The issue that is needed today is boots on the ground, planes in the air, ships at sea and trucks rolling into communities that have been impacted.

BEAUBIEN: I mean, as you can hear from how he's describing it, it's like a war that's happening at the moment. Australia is just dominated by this crisis. These fires have been going on for three months. Some of them get controlled. Other ones pop up. Some of them are merging together. And authorities are warning that this is just the beginning of Australia's summer. And this could go on for a while.

SIMON: So authorities there explicitly link the fires to climate change.

BEAUBIEN: They do. And they definitely are acknowledging that the higher temperatures and the drier conditions are a result of climate change. You know, the sparks that actually are lighting these are not a result of climate change. But the conditions on the ground are definitely being exacerbated by climate change. However, it's still a controversial issue. It's a political issue. Australia is a big exporter of coal. There are bushfires every year in Australia. But by all accounts, this has been a fire season like none other.

SIMON: NPR's Jason Beaubien in Sydney, thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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SIMON: And that's UP FIRST for Saturday, January 4, 2020. I'm Scott Simon.

FADEL: And I'm Leila Fadel. UP FIRST is produced by Hiba Ahmad, Samantha Balaban, Sophia Boyd, Denise Guerra and Ian Stewart. Our director is Ned Wharton. And our technical director is Stu Rushfield. Our editors are Barrie Hardymon and Melissa Gray. Our executive producer is Sarah Oliver. UP FIRST is back Monday with news to start your day. You can follow us on Twitter. We're @UpFirst.

SIMON: And, of course, you know the news doesn't stop just when this podcast ends. We've got a solution for that.

FADEL: Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday. Find it on your NPR station at stations.npr.org.

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